By Khalida Sarwari – Mercury News, April 4, 2018

Sand Hill Property Co.’s vision for the long defunct Vallco Shopping mall is drawing praise from housing advocates and residents, many who expressed their support at a Cupertino City Council meeting.

All but a few of the nearly 50 people who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting said Sand Hill’s newest mixed-use plan for the mall addresses a real housing crisis in the region.

Wilma Jakobsen, a reverend at Saint Jude’s Episcopal Church, said she’s lived in the city for a few years but had given up any hope of home ownership.

“In my first year I was excited because I thought I was able to buy a home in Cupertino,” she said. “It became very clear by seven, eight months in the process that was not going to be possible.”

Jakobsen acknowledged the Vallco Town Center proposal isn’t perfect and asked that it also take into consideration people with disabilities.

Unveiled on March 28, Sand Hill’s latest plan would transform the dying 58-acre shopping center into 2,402 residential units — half of which would be deemed affordable — 1.8 million square feet of office space and 400,000 square feet of retail. It also would showcase brand-new amenities such as theaters, a bowling alley and an ice skating rink. As in the original plan, the development would be covered by a 30-acre rooftop garden.

A few speakers, however, said they didn’t like how Sand Hill pushed its plan through SB 35 — a new state law that allows developers to get badly needed housing built through a streamlined process.

Cupertino resident Jennifer Griffin, who introduced herself as “a sixth generation Californian who values constitutional law,” said SB35 has created a “constitutional crisis.”

“These (bills) have been passed by a small minority in Sacramento and what’s happening is that the bills will be taking away local governments,” she said. “So the state is making all the zoning rules for all of California. Sacramento is going to be making the zoning laws for every city in California? Please. Is this representational democracy? I don’t think it is.”

Max Kapczynski, a Palo Alto resident who identified himself as a housing advocate, disagreed with Griffin.

“I felt that these legislators are serving people who are not homeowners, not voters, but people who just moved here; people who are young; people who are not citizens are being served by these housing bills and I think the state really wants to do what’s best for them,” he said. “I think this project will be great and Cupertino will be better off because of it.”

Sunnyvale resident Richard Mehlinger also made an impassioned plea to the council in support of Sand Hill’s plan.

“The housing shortage is a cancer hollowing out our communities, an oppressive gloom hanging over our lives, a weight crushing our chests,” Mehlinger said. “It is choking the life from our valley. This calamity is the result of the collective inaction of many, and yes, the greed, the selfishness, the meanness of a few.”

Even among many of the supporters, one gripe that came up repeatedly throughout the evening was about the size of the proposed office park. One resident said  that while the project is a step forward for the city, the office component is “two steps back.”

“It worsens our job-housing balance and critically damages our already terrible traffic,” she said.

Although the Vallco project was not on the April 3 agenda, a few of the council members briefly responded to the speakers. Vice Mayor Rod Sinks and council members Barry Chang and Savita Vaidhyanathan reiterated the importance of the community’s continued engagement in the planning process.

“I recognize that we’re somewhat divided and not everybody’s on the same page,” Sinks said, “but clearly we ought to be listening to our residents as best we can and try to find a project that meets economic viability for them.”